Penn State has dominated opposing offensive lines so far this season and is the top-ranked team in the conference in total sacks. Led by sack leader Carl Nassib, the Nittany Lions have accumulated 31 total through eight games which is far and away the top number in the conference. They’ll face their toughest challenge this weekend when Illinois visits Beaver Stadium.
The Illini have the top-ranked offensive line in the Big Ten and will have to slow down Penn State with a pocket passer in their backfield. Much of Wes Lunt‘s success this season can be attributed to the play of the big guys up front, and it has the team in a position they haven’t really been in since Ron Zook left the program. The team played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season but lost, dropping their overall record to 6-7 for their third straight losing season under former head coach Tim Beckman. Beckman was fired on August 28 following a preliminary internal investigation into player mistreatment. Bill Cubit took over a veteran group and has taken the program in the right direction.
The Illinois offensive line has been great for Lunt, but you can probably also contribute a lot of their success to the quarterback. Rather than holding onto the ball and taking sacks, Lunt isn’t afraid to throw the football away. That’s something that the offensive line appreciates cause it’s one of the reasons they’re considered to be the best pass protection group in the conference.
The story is a little different when possession is flipped, as Penn State’s offensive line and Illinois’ defensive line each rank last in the conference in terms of sacks. There’s no question that the battles up front will be the most intriguing matchups on Saturday afternoon, and the trenches could ultimately decide who comes out with the win.
Jason Shawley is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com covering Big Ten football. Follow him on Twitter @jshawls.